As the All Blacks season comes to a close with the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations title in tow, we look back on how members of Ian Foster’s squad fared over the course of the year.

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In the second of four instalments, we assess the campaigns of the loose forwards in the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations campaigns and give them an old-fashioned school report card grading for their efforts.

Sam Cane: A

Appearances: 6

Points scored: 10 (2 tries)

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Often a focal point for criticism from fans and media in 2020, Sam Cane did himself justice with his performances on the park.

There are bound to be people still offended by his honest take that fans don’t know as much about rugby as they think they do, but the fact of the matter is the skipper is the best defender and probably the best leader in New Zealand.

Cane’s defensive tenacity never falters and the vigour in his tackling hardly wavers, and this is reflected in his season stats where he finished with the most tackles in the team (85), 11 of which were dominant hits, while he also stole the most turnovers (eight).

While his side badly underperformed at times, the manner of which Cane led them to a bounce back whitewash of Los Pumas in Newcastle shows his actions speak louder than words – regardless of how they are received publicly.

Akira Ioane: A-

Appearances: 2

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Points scored: 0

Akira Ioane’s efforts this year may well have been enough to see him lockdown the national No. 6 jersey heading into next year.

That’s quite an accomplishment for someone who many thought would never make the All Blacks set-up again, had less than half an hour to prove his worth while starting on test debut, and only played in two of New Zealand’s six matches this season.

It’s a testament to his work rate, defence, ball-carrying and ability at both the set piece and breakdown, then, that Ioane has received such a glowing scorecard, and there should be plenty more to come in the coming years.

Ardie Savea: B

Appearances: 5

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Points scored: 0

A nominee for World Rugby Player of the Year last year, 2020 didn’t prove to be quite as fruitful for Ardie Savea in his five tests, although his damaging ball-carrying exploits were still evident throughout the international season.

The Wallabies felt the full brunt of his powerful attacking brute in Brisbane, while his defensive quality was evident in the fact that he missed just two of his 48 tackle attempts and won the team’s second-equal-most turnovers (five) this year.

But, there were times it felt there was a touch of inconsistency in his game, as it seemed the following week against the Pumas.

In all fairness, every All Blacks player in that game failed to deliver, but with stern competition from Ioane and Hoskins Sotutu for Savea to keep his place in the starting side, big things will be expected in 2021.

Hoskins Sotutu: B

Appearances: 5

Points scored: 0

An explosive campaign for the Blues this year set the tone for a promising rookie test season for Hoskins Sotutu, and while he didn’t exactly reach his Super Rugby heights in the black jersey, he looks a mainstay in the All Blacks for years to come.

He didn’t look out of depth at any stage of the Bledisloe Cup or Tri-Nations, and looked the goods as a starting prospect in the 43-5 romp of the Wallabies at No. 8, managing to bag a pair of try assists for Karl Tu’inukuafe and Rieko Ioane.

 

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One blemish, though, came in the loss to Los Pumas, where he – and all his teammates – were lost for ideas, as evidenced by Sotutu’s enthusiastic but poorly executed cameo off the bench where he left a try begging with a bad pass in the dying stages.

However, all in all, there should be little room for complaint, and Sotutu could stand as a genuine starting prospect this time next year if he continues to develop like he has in 2020.

Shannon Frizell: C

Appearances: 4

Points scored: 0

The fact that Ioane has likely overtaken Shannon Frizell as New Zealand’s first-choice blindside flanker in just two tests gives you all you need to know regarding his lowly scorecard.

It’s not as if Frizell was especially poor across the campaign, although his fragile mentality shown against Argentina, a tackle low tackle success rate of 83 percent and a total of nine turnovers from penalties and general play are points of concern.

Regardless, it’s not as if he thrust himself in any great manner to stake a claim as New Zealand’s long-term No. 6, not in the same way that Ioane has done, leaving the 13-test flanker with a big hurdle to overcome heading into 2021.

Dalton Papalii: C

Appearances: 1

Points scored: 0

The absence of Savea from the opening round of the Tri-Nations gave Dalton Papalii a rare chance in the All Blacks’ match day 23, starting from the bench in Bledisloe III.

In just his fourth test since making his international debut at the end of 2018, the 23-year-old was granted only 12 minutes off the bench in Sydney for his season’s work.

It follows the three minutes he was given against the Springboks last year to unsuccessfully prove his case to make the World Cup squad, and while his powerful talents remain undoubted, Papalii needs more game time to realise his potential in test rugby.

Cullen Grace: N/A

Appearances: 1

Points scored: 0

He may have won his test debut off the bench in Bledisloe IV, but it’s very hard to give Cullen Grace a fair scorecard on the back of just two minutes of international rugby when he didn’t touch the ball and didn’t make a tackle.

Still, the 20-year-old loose forward showed great impetus and looked eager to get stuck in when he was called upon, but it would have been nice to see him get more game time.

 

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Du’Plessis Kirifi: N/A

Appearances: 0

Points scored: 0

Wellington flanker Du’Plessis Kirifi was pulled from the Mitre 10 Cup to travel to Australia as cover for Savea, who missed the week of the Tri-Nations through paternity leave.

However, as was the case for Otago prop George Bower and Canterbury lock Mitchell Dunshea, Kirifi never featured for the All Blacks, raising questions over whether his precautionary inclusion was necessary at all.

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